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U.S. Supreme Court Rules EEOC Charge is Procedural Requirement, Not Jurisdictional

June 17, 2019 Leave a comment

AET Headshot Photo 2019 (M1344539xB1386)By: Amanda Thibodeau

As we have discussed previously, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), is a federal statute that prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. It also prohibits retaliation against individuals who assert rights under the statute. To assert a claim under Title VII, the statute outlines that as a precondition to filing suit in federal court, a person must file a formal charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) within 180 or 300 days of the alleged violation. But what happens if an individual fails to file such a charge, or fails to list every alleged violation in that charge?

On June 3, 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court answered that question with its ruling in Fort Bend Cty. v. Davis. In Davis, the plaintiff filed an initial charge with the EEOC alleging retaliation for reporting sexual harassment to her employer. While the EEOC case was pending, Ms. Davis contends she was fired for refusing to work on Sundays based upon her religious commitments. Ms. Davis attempted to add to the initial EEOC charge by handwriting “religion” on an EEOC intake questionnaire, but her EEOC charge was never formally amended. She then went on to file her case in federal court, alleging discrimination based upon religion and retaliation.

Several years into the litigation, Fort Bend filed a motion to dismiss based upon Ms. Davis’ failure to file an EEOC charge alleging religious discrimination. Fort Bend alleged the federal court did not have jurisdiction over the claim because Ms. Davis failed to meet Title VII’s charge requirement. The district court granted that motion. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed, holding that Fort Bend waived the issue by waiting too long to raise it with the court.

The U.S. Supreme Court then weighed in this week affirming the Fifth Circuit’s opinion, holding that Title VII’s charge requirement is procedural rather than jurisdictional. The Court said Title VII’s charge requirement “is a processing rule, albeit a mandatory one, not a jurisdictional prescription delineating the adjudicatory authority of courts.” In short, while Title VII requires an individual to file a charge with the EEOC, the filing itself is not necessarily the act that triggers jurisdiction over the claim, and thus failing to file the charge is not necessarily fatal.

The Court’s ruling does not mean that plaintiffs are free to ignore such claim-processing requirements, however. The Court was clear that the failure to follow such requirements may still be fatal to plaintiffs’ claims; however, defendants must be careful to raise the issue early on – preferably in the answer or an early motion to dismiss. Otherwise, the procedural defects are deemed waived.

For more information on Title VII or other discrimination issues, please contact Matthew Mitchell or Amanda Thibodeau.

DOL Issues Opinion Letter Classifying Workers in the Gig Economy As Independent Contractors

June 6, 2019 Leave a comment

2015-01-05_8-57-41The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) recently issued an Opinion Letter analyzing the classification of workers in the virtual marketplace or “gig economy.” This refers to companies that operate in the “on-demand” or “sharing” economy, using online and smartphone applications to connect consumers to service providers in a wide variety of services, such as transportation, cleaning, delivery, and shopping.

The DOL was asked to analyze the classification of such service providers under the Federal Labor Standards Act (FLSA), ultimately deciding that based upon the facts provided by the unidentified company in question, the service providers were independent contractors.

This is vitally important in that independent contractors are not afforded the same protections under the FLSA as employees. For example, employees are entitled to minimum wage, overtime pay, and other benefits under the FLSA, while independent contractors are not. Continue reading in our Employment Law Alert.

Title VII at SCOTUS

June 3, 2019 Leave a comment

AET Headshot Photo 2019 (M1344539xB1386)By: Amanda Thibodeau

In April 2019 the U.S. Supreme Court announced it would hear three cases related to discrimination based upon sexual orientation and gender identity during its next term. The Court will analyze the scope of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), which prohibits discrimination on the basis of a protected class. Currently, the lower courts are split on whether the term “sex” in the statute includes sexual orientation and/or gender identity. Both the Second and Seventh Circuit Courts as well as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) all interpret Title VII as covering sexual orientation, while the Eleventh Circuit disagrees.

In two of the cases, Altitude Express v. Zarda and Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, the Court will consider whether Title VII’s prohibition on sex discrimination protects individuals from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. In R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC, on the other hand, the Court will consider whether discrimination on the basis of gender identity is prohibited under Title VII.

The Zarda case involves a skydiving instructor who was fired after he disclosed to a customer that he was gay. Mr. Zarda subsequently died in a 2014 skydiving accident, and his estate has been pursuing the case on his behalf. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit interpreted Title VII to include sexual orientation under its protections. Mr. Zarda’s former employer then appealed that decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.  Noteworthy is that the EEOC and the Department of Justice (DOJ) both submitted briefs in the Second Circuit which were inapposite of each other: the EEOC arguing that Title VII protects discrimination based upon sexual orientation, while the DOJ argued it does not.

In the Bostock case, a child welfare services coordinator claimed he was fired for being gay. The Eleventh Circuit ruled against him, citing a 1979 5th Circuit case that held homosexuality is not prohibited by Title VII.

The third case, Harris, involves a transgender woman, Aimee Stephens, who was fired after informing her employer, a funeral home, that she was a transgender woman and would start wearing women’s clothing to work. Her former employer defended itself in the case by claiming that it believed gender transition violated “God’s commands.” The federal district court initially ruled that Ms. Stephens was discriminated against, but that the employer was protected by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The Sixth Circuit then reversed the district court, holding that not only is transgender discrimination prohibited under Title VII, but also that the employer was not protected by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The funeral home appealed.

Some states, like Massachusetts, already provide their own individual protections based upon sexual orientation and/or gender identity, but many states do not. The Supreme Court’s determinations in these cases, therefore, have the potential to change the landscape of employment discrimination law nationwide, and will be closely watched.  Advocacy groups, such as the American Civil Liberties Union (who is co-counsel in two out of three cases), are particularly concerned about the potential impact of the Court’s decisions. Decisions in these cases are expected by June 2020.

Morse will watch these cases closely and will provide updates as new information becomes available.

For more information on Title VII or other discrimination issues, please contact Matthew Mitchell or Amanda Thibodeau.

UPDATED: Federal District Court Reinstates EEO-1 Pay Data Reporting Requirements (For Now)

May 9, 2019 Leave a comment

AET Headshot Photo 2019 (M1344539xB1386)By: Amanda Thibodeau

As we previously reported, in March 2019 the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia issued a ruling concluding that the White House Office of Management and Budget (“OMB”) did not have a sufficient basis to stay pay reporting data requirements (known as “Component 2”) previously announced by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”).

On April 3, 2019 the OMB filed a brief with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia proposing a September 30, 2019 deadline for the EEOC to complete the Component 2 pay data collection, which was approved by the Court later that month.

On May 1, 2019, the EEOC announced it expects to begin collecting the Component 2 pay data for both 2017 and 2018 calendar years in mid-July 2019 in anticipation of the September 30, 2019 deadline. The EEOC expects to open a submission portal for employers to submit that data this summer. A copy of the published announcement can be found here.

Employers are still expected to submit their 2018 Component 1 data by the May 31, 2019 deadline.

The Morse Employment Law Group will continue to monitor this issue and provide updates as they become available.

For more information, please contact Matthew Mitchell or Amanda Thibodeau.

Department of Labor Proposes New Interpretation of Joint Employer Status Under The Fair Labor Standards Act

April 9, 2019 Leave a comment

AET Headshot Photo 2019 (M1344539xB1386)By: Amanda Thibodeau

On April 9, 2019, the United States Department of Labor (“DOL”) published a notice of proposed rulemaking (the “NPRM”) to amend its existing regulations regarding so-called “joint employer” status under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (the “FLSA” or the “Act”).

The FLSA requires covered “employers” to pay nonexempt employees at least the federal minimum wage for all hours worked and overtime for all hours worked over 40 hours in a workweek.  The Act also contemplates scenarios in which other “persons,” in addition to the nominal employer, may be jointly liable for wages due to an employee under the Act.  This concept is generally known as joint employer wage liability (although the term “joint employer” is not specifically used in the language of the FLSA).  Joint employer status under the FLSA implicates questions such as:

  • Is a franchiser liable for the wage obligations of its franchisees?
  • Is an institutional investor liable for the wage obligations of its portfolio businesses?
  • Is a parent corporation liable for the wage obligations of its subsidiaries?

In 1958, the DOL issued regulations interpreting joint employer status under the Act.  Those regulations instructed that multiple persons or entities may be jointly liable for wage obligations due to an employee if they are “not completely disassociated with” respect to the employment of an employee.  This open-ended standard, which remains the current DOL benchmark on the subject, has been the subject to debate for nearly sixty years.

The DOL indicates that the purpose of the NPRM is to make the determination of joint employer status under the FLSA “simpler and more consistent.”

A New Test For Joint Liability Status

The NPRM proposes a four-factored test to determine when a person or entity shares wage liability for an employee with the nominal employer.  The four factors are whether the person or business entity:

  • hires or fires the employee;
  • supervises and controls the employee’s work schedule or conditions of employment;
  • determines the employee’s rate and method of payment; and
  • maintains the employee’s employment records.

The NPRM clarifies that that “the potential joint employer must actually exercise . . . one or more of these indicia of control to be jointly liable under the Act.” (Emphasis supplied).  The reserved, but unexercised, contractual right to act in relation to an employee “is not relevant for determining joint employer status.”   In addition, the NPRM provides a set of examples that illustrate the limits of the four-factor test:

  • The potential joint employer’s business model—for example, operating as a franchisor—does not make joint employer status more or less likely under the Act.
  • The potential joint employer’s contractual agreements with the employer requiring the employer to, for example, set a wage floor, institute sexual harassment policies, establish workplace safety practices, require morality clauses, adopt similar generalized business practices, or otherwise comply with the law, do not make joint employer status more or less likely under the Act.
  • The potential joint employer’s practice of providing a sample employee handbook, or other forms, to the employer; allowing the employer to operate a business on its premises (including “store within a store” arrangements); offering an association health plan or association retirement plan to the employer or participating in such a plan with the employer; jointly participating in an apprenticeship program with the employer; or any other similar business practice, does not make joint employer status more or less likely under the Act.

What’s Next?

It should be noted that NPRM is a proposal.  The DOL is now soliciting comments from interested parties with respect to the NPRM, and will begin the process of developing a final rule on the subject.  Whether the DOL ultimately adopts the rules proposed in the NPRM is unclear.  What is clear is that the DOL is focused on clarifying standards with respect to this contentious area of employment law.  Morse will continue to monitor, and report on this subject.

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Morse’s Employment Law Group regularly advises clients with respect to compliance with the Fair Labor Standards Act and its developments.

For more information, please contact Amanda Thibodeau or Matthew Mitchell.

Equal Pay Day in Massachusetts: Are you in compliance?

April 2, 2019 Leave a comment

2015-01-05_8-57-41By: Amanda Thibodeau

April 2, 2019, is National Equal Pay Day – a date designated by the National Committee on Pay Equity to highlight inequities in wages between men and women. Equal Pay Day marks how far into the next calendar year the average American woman would have to work in order to make as much as the average American man made in the preceding year. With the recent passage of the Massachusetts Equal Pay Law, Equal Pay Day also serves as a reminder to all Massachusetts employers that they have specific legal obligations to examine, identify, and eliminate wage gaps among their male and female employees.

Read about the obligations in our Employment Law Alert.

U.S. Department of Labor Proposes Significant Changes to FLSA Overtime Regulations

March 25, 2019 Leave a comment

2015-01-05_8-57-41By: Matthew Mitchell

On March 7, 2019, the U.S. Department of Labor announced a long-awaited Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRM”) that proposes new regulations that relate to overtime and minimum wage exemptions under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”). The FLSA requires that most employees in the United States be paid at least the federal minimum wage for all hours worked, and overtime pay at time and one-half the regular rate of pay for all hours worked over 40 hours in a workweek.

Read about the proposed changes, including how they could change employee exempt or nonexempt status in our Employment Law Alert.